Okay, folks, you won’t be able to know who’s who in this Syrian War without a program! So, without further ado, enjoy!
First off, there’s several different factions over there and not all of them willingly get along. Syria has: Shi’ite Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Syrian Orthodox Christians, a small number of Catholics, Kurds, Alawite Muslims, Druze, Yazidis, and the current imported Wahhabis called ISIS and al-Nusra. The surrounding nations do not all appreciate this mix of diversity. See, Assad is an Alawite Muslim, which is how he could walk the tightrope between these various factions, since the Alawite are a tiny minority themselves.
So…neighboring Iran is Shi’ite and controls the paramilitary militias of Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guard who have fought in Iraq and Syria. They back Assad and hate ISIS. Iran does not want to see another Sunni nation pop up on its border, which they fear will happen if we topple Assad. The United States always backs Sunni Muslims and so this fear is not without foundation. The animosity between Sunni and Shi’ite is well known. So, Iran can be counted on to supply Hezbollah and Revolutionary Guard martyr brigades to any war in Syria that a would-be Sunni government is seeking to win.
Then we have neighboring Turkey, who hates Assad and ISIS, but also hates the Kurds who are one of our anti-ISIS allies. Turkey would like nothing more than to see Assad toppled and ISIS gone, but after that, the Kurds better not try to create an autonomous republic which is one of their stated goals. In fact, Turkey is engaged in a guerilla war against Kurdish separatists who hit Turkish security forces in Turkey and then run across the border into Syria to escape. The Kurdish militias themselves are mostly quasi-Marxist pseudo-socialists, but all of them are agreed that they will create an autonomous Kurdish republic once this is over. Which the Turks, our NATO ally, will not accept.
There are several minority groups within Syria that stand to suffer persecution if a hardline Sunni government (as in one our Saudi “ally” would “help” us install once Assad is gone) comes to power. There are the Alawite Muslims, because they’re associated with Assad. Also, the Syrian Orthodox Christians who date back to Paul the Apostle. They see themselves as Syrian, so they’ve got lives built there over several centuries. There are a few Catholics there also who trace their lineage back longer than the discovery of the New World. There are the Yazidi, a minority religion that worships an entity known as the Peacock Angel. There are possibly Mandeans who consider themselves John the Baptist’s disciples. And we have the Druze, a sect of Islam you have to be born into. Maybe a handful of Sufi. None of these folks are particularly cherished by the Sunni. Assad has never bothered them so long as they behaved.
All of these groups, with only a few exceptions, create their own militias for self-protection. Enter into this fray ISIS, who we all know. Also is al-Nusra, which is the local generic brand of al-Qaida. The rivalry between ISIS and al-Qaida is like the rivalry between two major soda pops. They’re both selling the same product, but each wants to be the only one selling it. Therefore, these two factions fight the militias of the minority groups, the Shi’ites, Iranian paramilitaries, Assad’s men, Iraq, the Russians, and the Western forces that enter the fray. Plus, they fight each other over internecine local power squabbles.
Of course, we know the Russians are there also. And we know the government of Iran could commit actual military forces beyond their paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah. So, there are two conventional armies with mechanized troops, air forces, surface-to-surface missiles, submarines, and naval assets that can enter into a war with little notice. Iran has at least five Kilo-class submarines and possible “carrier killer” cruise missiles obtained from China.
Thus, who will be the possible combatants the United States will face if it enters into this war? First, the military of Assad, of course. Possibly the conventional forces of Russia and Iran. Definitely ISIS and al-Nusra. Definitely Hezbollah and other Shi’ite militias. In time, if the United States looks the other way while NATO ally Turkey uses the cover of this war to do to the Kurds what they used the cover of World War One to do to the Armenians, the U.S. can count on the Kurds becoming a combatant. Probably allied with Shi’ite militias backed by Iran.
Down the road, if Assad is toppled and a U.S.-backed regime is installed, the Kurds will demand that autonomous republic. Which Turkey will never accept, because they don’t want a base for hit-and-run raids over the border into Turkey. So, Turkey will pressure the U.S. into saying no. Which will lead to the Second Syrian Civil War when the Kurds revolt and say, “Hey, we bled for this and we’ll have our share of the pie whether you like it or not!” And, of course, the Shi’ite militias will be more than happy to back the Kurds. Plus, the American occupation will lead up to the creation of Syrian resistance groups to target American troops as happened with Iraq.
You cannot win this war. It is as simple as that. And this Pollyanna notion that these folks are itching for democracy, fast food chains, Big Box stores, and stupid American movies and music is naïve at best. You will have to airlift the Christians, Mandeans, Sufis, and Yazidis, out of there, more than likely, or they’ll be killed. The Saudis have a big interest in Assad being gone for two reasons: Number One, it isolates Iran. Who they hate because their are Shi’ite. Number Two, they can “helpfully” assist the U.S. in installing a Sunni government that, over time, will become Wahhabi and help export that sect across the Middle East. And the United States is blundering into this nest of multi-headed Hydras eyes wide open.